Visiting the Art of the Mexican Muralists

In July, Charlie and I had the opportunity to travel down to Mexico City to see some of the fantastic works of art painted by Mexico’s three great muralists – “los tres grandes”, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

The Mexican Muralist tradition was born from the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.  The revolution overturned the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and was based on agrarian reform to overcome the power of the landowners, or hacienderos.   The three muralists became the internationally-known leaders of the mural movement.  Together, they created the Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors and devoted themselves to large-scale murals illustrating the history of Mexico, its people, society and revolution.

Their idea was that art ought to be accessible to all, and each artist must contribute to glorifying the Mexican people’s strengths and building a more egalitarian future. The painter Siqueiros wrote, “We condemn so-called easel painting and all the art produced by ultra-intellectual circles on the grounds that it is aristocratic, and we glorify the expression of monumental Art because it is publics property”.

Each of these muralists had their own style – Diego Rivera used more vibrant colors and glorified Mexico’s heritage and indigenous cultures, while Orozco used more somber colors and focused on human suffering.  Siqueiros relied on modern technology to paint (using acrylics and resins) and based his works on socialist ideals and modernist forms.

There are many places in Mexico City to see the works of these great muralists.  For example, Diego Rivera’s murals depicting the history of Mexico from 1521 to 1930 are in the staircase of the National Palace.  On the 2nd floor is his series of the pre-Hispanic era, glorifying the life of the indigenous people before the brutality of the Spanish conquest.  In the Museo Mural Diego Rivera can be found one of his most famous works entitled “Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda” (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park), which shows many of the great Mexican historical figures strolling side-by-side with the common people in the park.

Another place to visit is the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts).  In the Art Deco interior, you can find works of all three artists.  One of the most interesting is “El Hombre En El Cruce de Caminos” (Man at the Crossroads), a work similar to that commissioned for New York’s Rockefeller Center in 1933. The Rockefellers were not happy with that mural and had it destroyed.  In this depiction, a giant vacuum sucks up the riches of the earth to feed the factories of card-playing white capitalists, including John D. Rockefeller himself, while workers rally behind the red flag of socialism and its standard-bearer, Lenin.

In addition to Mexico City, Guadalajara’s Palacio de Gobierno also has several great works of Orozco, including one of Father Hidalgo making his declaration freeing the enslaved indigenous peoples from bondage.


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